When $486 billion is ‘low’

In this Feb. 5, 2015 file photo, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Treasury Department releases federal budget data for March on Friday, April 10, 2015. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite. File)

The federal deficit rose slightly during the first half of the fiscal year that ended on March 31, according to figures issued Monday by the U.S. Treasury. But it’s still near its lowest level in six years, and the Congressional Budget Office projects that the full 2015 fiscal year’s deficit will barely eclipse the 2014 total.

Before assuming a new age of fiscal responsibility has dawned in the halls of national power, however, ponder the raw numbers involved:

The CBO deficit forecast for the entire fiscal year is $486 billion. While that’s far below the four straight trillion-dollar-plus deficits from fiscal years 2009 through 2012, it’s above the then-record $455 billion of 2008.

In other words, our national government is still spending far beyond its means — and CBO deficit projections over the next decade climb sharply due in large part to unsustainable Medicare and Social Security formats.

A U.S. senator offered this compelling warning against such long-term, bottom-line folly in 2006 after voting against yet another boost in the debt ceiling:

“The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our government’s reckless fiscal policies.”

He added: “Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here.’ Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.”

That senator was Barack Obama. When he became president, the national debt was already a record $10.6 trillion, after it steeply climbed by nearly $5 trillion in eight years under President George W. Bush.

Now, nearly six years and three months into President Obama’s tenure, it’s a record $18.2 trillion.

Now annual deficits of nearly half a trillion, once widely — and rightly — condemned as irresponsible, are presented as evidence of deficit reduction.

So how reassured are you by that still-vast gap between federal revenues and expenditures?